May 19, 2009

By Tim Peeler

PEELER: NC State Hosts ACC Softball Tournament

RALEIGH, N.C. - From practice, NC State has become good at hosting championships.

The Wolfpack athletics staff has a well-earned reputation for handling a variety of national and conference championship events, including basketball, soccer, and gymnastics.

This weekend, NC State will host its final championship of the 2008-09 school year, when the ACC Softball Championship begins at the two-year-old Curtis & Jacqueline Dail Softball Stadium on campus.

"Just like with the NCAA women's basketball tournament and the two gymnastics events we had earlier this spring, this is another opportunity to spotlight our facilities and our staff and the great job they do with these kinds of events," said athletics director Lee Fowler. "The ACC and people around the country believe NC State hosts great championship events."

And what better way to kick off such a championship event than with the ACC's biggest softball rivalry, NC State vs. North Carolina? It's the first of four games today in the single-elimination tournament.

"It seems like we always end up playing them in the tournament, so it might as well be in the first game," said Wolfpack sixth-year coach Lisa Navas, who owns a 4-0 record against the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament. "It's the team we have to go through as we try to continue to accomplish what we set out to do this year."

First pitch is scheduled for noon in the contest between the third-seeded Tar Heels and the sixth-seeded Wolfpack. The Pack (23-24 overall, 5-13 ACC) enters the tournament on a three-game winning streak.

For Navas, hosting the tournament is another brick in the foundation of building a successful program at NC State, which won the 2006 ACC title in just its third season.

"It is exciting to be able to host the tournament, which only comes around every seven or eight years," Navas said. "It's important and fun for the kids. We are excited. The field looks great. It brings a spotlight to our facility."

Unlike the variety of ACC championships that are held at neutral sites, the eight-team conference softball tournament rotates from campus to campus. The Dail Softball Stadium opened last season after the Wolfpack spent the first four years of its program playing off campus.

"We have a great atmosphere at our park," Navas said. "Hopefully, we will get some good crowds this weekend. I teased throughout the season that the best way to fill up the stadium was for us to play Carolina, and it turns out we will get them in the first round.

"Hopefully, there will be a great crowd."

Navas knows that her team will have to get on a hot streak to make it through the tournament and advance to NCAA play. But that's the great thing about tournament play - the opportunity to extend the season.

"I have told the kids that I have been waiting all year for them to peak and this would be a good time to do it," Navas said. "I think we are playing well right now. We have had some bumps and bruises throughout the season, but we should be an experienced team now.

"It's time to win some games."

And use the whatever home-field advantage the Pack has from hosting the ACC Championships.